Though the rates of teen pregnancy in the U.S. have been on the decline for the past 20 years, the issue of how to deal with pregnant teenagers is still relevant to parents and educators alike.
One high school in White Cloud, Mich. decided to try to hide evidence of the pregnancies of two of such teenage students by banning their pregnant bellies from their yearbook photos.
Students Kimberly Haney and Deonna Harris were told their photos would have to be retaken in a way that did not include their pregnant stomachs. The superintendent of White Cloud Public Schools, Barry Seabrook, supported the decision, saying that including a photo of an obviously pregnant student in the yearbook would go against Michigan’s state-wide policy of abstinence-only sex education.
Instead of shaming teen mothers, Michigan educators should focus on providing solid sex education to students and ditch the ineffective abstinence-only policy they’re currently embracing.
Instead of banning a photo of a pregnant student because it gives the impression that abstinence-only education is not working, Michigan schools need to admit abstinence-only education is not working.
A 2007 report by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. found abstinence-only programs did not appear to impact the rates at which teens abstained from sexual activity. The same year, 12,678 Michigan women ages 10-19 gave birth, accounting for 10 percent of babies born in the state, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
According to a 2002 survey by University of Washington researchers, comprehensive sex education slightly reduced the likelihood that teens would have vaginal intercourse, while abstinence-only programs did not appear to affect the likelihood of teens having intercourse at all.
Despite all of the evidence that abstinence-only education simply does not work, Michigan is one of 25 states that require abstinence be stressed as the main method of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
I don’t pretend to know whether it was a lack of information about contraception that led to the pregnancies of the two White Cloud teens, but if my memory of how students and teachers alike gossiped about pregnant girls in my high school serves me correctly, being a pregnant high-schooler is already difficult enough without being given a hard time about your belly showing in your yearbook photo.
If White Cloud bans pregnant students from being shown in the yearbook because it goes against their flawed abstinence-only education policy, perhaps the boys who helped Haney and Harris into their delicate conditions should be singled out and banned from the yearbook as well, along with every other student at the school who isn’t a virgin.
Harris and Haney’s classmates at White Cloud High School will remember they were pregnant whether their bellies are shown in the yearbook or not. Teen mothers have a tough enough road ahead of them – they need support and compassion from community leaders like Superintendent Seabrook, not shame and criticism.